Many marital conflicts arise because the parents of one or the other interfere too much. How to save these daily discussions?
In 1999, film director Rob Reiner directed Historia de lo Nuestro, a marriage drama starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Bruce Willis. In one scene of the film, the two protagonists argue heatedly sitting on the bed, while, next to them, their parents are taking an active part in the conflict.
This parody, which is a fiction within the film, shows us something very real for many couples relatives who have almost more voice and vote in their relationship than they do.
THE COUPLE’S OWN SPACE
When we choose our partner, we do not choose their family. However, it is about their family and, given that there are strong emotional ties between them just as we have them with ours it will be necessary to clearly delimit and enforce the couple’s private and intimate world , especially in reference to two basic needs: a physical space and a psychological space of their own.
A PHYSICAL SPACE OF INTIMACY
There is a need to maintain a private physical space in which to develop coexistence and build the relationship.
I remember Bruno, a very funny Argentine patient, who told me that he had bought a flat on the same farm where his in-laws lived. He claimed not to remember a single day when his wife’s mother had not come down to visit her daughter. Sometimes, if he walked into the kitchen and saw that he was the one cooking, he would lift the lid of the saucepan to taste the food and flavor it better . “Sergio, do you know how to say mother-in-law in Greek? You get in the way, ”Bruno used to joke.
THE PSYCHOLOGICAL SPACE: DOES THE COUPLE HAVE INDEPENDENCE TO MAKE THEIR DECISIONS?
Likewise, it is necessary to have a psychological space in which to take with full freedom and without pressure all those determinations that correspond as a couple.
And it is that there are endless activities that require important decision making that are usually affected by the wishes of the parents . Where to eat on Sundays? One prefers to do it in private with his partner, the other does not want to miss the weekly meal with all the brothers and their partners and children. And where do we go at Christmas? Or who to invite to our son’s communion; they would prefer something intimate, “but my mother says we should notify”.
I have met couples who have even had to agree with their families the name of their future son or daughter. But where couples are more frequently invaded is, without a doubt, in the education of their children.
One of my patients has a two-year-old boy who often has problems with food. When they go to eat at her in-laws’ house, she has to take the child to a room where the two of them are alone so that no one, especially the father-in-law whom she calls the “father-in-law” tells him what to do. you have to do to get your child to eat.
HOW TO SET LIMITS WHEN FAMILIES INVADE THESE SPACES?
These two basic needs of every couple to have a physical space in which to develop their coexistence and a psychological space in which to be able to decide in freedom tend to be violated quite easily, which leads to endangering the stability of the couple, especially if she is young and does not yet have the necessary degree of maturity to assert herself and respect her with the extended family.
When dealing with these conflicts , the couple must take into account a number of fundamental issues:
- The first is that, when we need to face a problem with the parents of either of the two, we do it by mutual agreement and in collaboration. This is how full responsibility for the care of the relationship is assumed, since it is this that will serve as the basis for the construction of the family itself.
- A second issue is to manage the conflict without touching the bond of our couple with their parents. It is about avoiding that of “Is that your mother”. If we don’t, we will be psychologically attacking a primary bond and our partner will be divided between us and their parents. Instead, it is important to express to our partner how we feel about their parents and what we need from them, but always without making personal assessments of the parents.
- And finally, it is about not involving the parents in the conflicts of the couple . Many times, it is one of the members, because he has not properly broken the umbilical cord, who calls his parents to explain any conflict, instead of agreeing on solutions with his partner. When this situation becomes repetitive, family members end up worried and constantly try to intervene, which is why they end up having more weight on the couple than themselves. And so, scenes like the one in Rob Reiner’s movie are not so far from reality.